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Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic Interactionism has long been riddled with divisions and the most foundational of these are about methodology. It is more or less accepted that Symbolic Interactionism can be analyzed with reference to the Iowa and Chicago schools and this assists one in answering the question of which is more important, interaction or the symbolic domain?

The Chicago School tends to believe it’s methodologically and therefore fundamentally better to research with a special methodology in mind for symbolic interactionism, one which focuses on conduct or interaction; The Iowa School wants a much broader methodology, one which stresses unity in all disciplines which are more or less symbolic domains. (Reynolds & Metzer, 1973: 189) These two contestations will play out in this essay in order to argue for both sides and ultimately to provide a synthesis that nevertheless does place a preference.

I. What is Self as an Actor in Society? According to the Chicago school the self is created as Henry James aligned it, a “product” that is created through “interaction with others. ”(Longmore 1998: 45) Based on this unit of conception, that is, interaction, a person can be many different persons and who they are depends on who they’re interacting with. If a person dresses up as a priest and conducts mass with people believing him, then, he is not just pretending to be a priest but as a person is a priest.

The self is not one thing but always many things that it will be and has been as there are many roles that the self can take and these roles are definitive of the self which becomes in its array of personas, not quite a person. What this states can be crudely simplified to, ‘the self is made through practice gained when acting out different personas in front of others’ but a question remains, what roles can they act out and why would they exert themselves to sometimes bend over backwards in order to fulfill the necessity of the role?

For the Iowa School action is much more pre-determined than just consciously determined by an actor who is generic in that they’re no more advantaged or disadvantaged than anyone else. The Iowa School prefers noting structural features and often does this through quantitative methods that help explore how a person is conditioned by structural circumstances or various symbolic domains towards developing themselves by acting, thinking, and speaking in various ways.

“Self-lodging” is an important facet as selves are housed in various symbolic domains that run from class orientation to language to attire and almost everything that we take for granted in our society. (Denzin 1969: 924) The Chicago school really has trouble contending with why people lodged in similar places have very similar behavior patterns and modes of symbolic presentation.

Why is it that certain groups assimilate faster than other groups, as we assume that intelligence and capacity for consciousness are about the same from group, then how do we explain the differences between assimilation patterns of say, Asians against newly immigrated Hispanics. Structural contestations occur and those invisible hand manipulations can really alter the way a person is given feedback when performing a role or refused even the chance to perform a role no matter what their capacity may be.

If a twelve year old wanted to be a physician it is very unlikely that this youth would be taken seriously even if he were skilled enough to operate successfully as well as perform like any other very skilled physician. Age is certainly a limit to many things as are factors such as ethnicity, class, and education level. Existing structures, it can be argued from Chicago’s more agency based perspective, are simply formed by a lot of people acting and creating structure.

That may be true but a lot of structure is inherited and there’s no way to trace origin or true continuation except that we know that structure is largely derived not from instantaneous practice of everyone as consciously and rationally made but rather, from determined choices and performances that have to contend with their internal and external states of dependency. II. Are Interactions that Consequential?

In the Chicago model which emphasizes interactions what’s missing is the Cartesian fragment of introspection. This does not make sense because if it is the case that ‘I am because I do’ then why could people not be replaced as robots who are probably better at certain roles and do them better. In manufacturing a lot of things that people do has been replaced by robots but in the service industry there’s something about the entire face-to-face interaction that is necessary enough that it stays.

While we have the technology to place our order on a computer and pick it up half an hour later very few companies have instituted this and this cannot be because our technology does not equip us to do so. Rather, when we know that restaurants would be more efficient if we did not have to wait for waitresses but were rather given precise timetables for when our order would arrive and what was in the works. Why has this not happened and why do even restaurants that could afford this not contemplate this?

It seems like the term interaction has to be re-evaluated because while classic theorists like Mead or Cooley, who so influenced Chicago school theorists, did talk a lot about face-to-face interaction; they did not live in the age of the internet or even television. For Mead our social world is composed of actions and reactions, but this can be very confusing when we relate this even smaller measurement to the term, interaction. (Lewis 1976: 352) There is too much relativity that all arrives at disarray.

For example, if every action in the world mattered then why is history so often composed of major actions and reactions, not every action and reaction? Why is it that when we watch a movie a lot of actions and reactions are simply ignored? Do you remember what one extra said to another extra? Probably not, but if you watched a movie with a great line it was probably said by someone who was in the foreground and not the background. Perspective defeats relativism as it’s not relativism because it is structured.

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